Category Archives: connection

The High-Wire Act Between Wisdom and Delusion

Recognizing how narcissism blocks the uniqueness of our Being.

Recently, the theme of narcissism has foisted itself into our collective conversation.  According to Webster, it is defined as: “Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.”  We can perhaps come closer to understanding the term by delving into its synonyms: self-absorption, self-love, self-obsession, self-centeredness, conceit, egoic … But we can’t stop there, because, wrestling with narcissism is part of the human condition.

There is an in-depth book about “Transformations of Narcissism in Self Realization” by A.H. Almaas called “The Point of Existence.”  In it, Mr. Almaas discusses narcissism as identifying with a part of our experience and not being able to connect to the fullness of Being.

Mr. Almaas points out that there is a spectrum of narcissism that ranges from what is deemed healthy to pathological, and that being human, we are pretty much all subject to being on that spectrum.  So, it’s possible that, at any given point throughout our day, we can over-identify with the thoughts we are having, with our social status, with our current emotion, with our body image or a pain that we are experiencing.

Narcissism can make life, “all about me” and in doing so, it ironically robs us of experiencing who we really are, as well as diminishing the richness we are offered in each moment.

Over the weekend, my wife Julia witnessed an interview with a young man who had just written a book and given a TED talk. In the interview he was trying to explain that “he did not believe in” and “wasn’t looking for” inspiration.  He stated that he was his own source of inspiration.  He explained that everything essentially originated with him, that things weren’t interesting in themselves but it was the way that he looked at them that made them interesting.

Julia and I discussed this last declaration, turning it over and over, examining what drives us to feel we are the source of everything we see. Life is often a game of semantics. For example, inspiration and intuition are concepts that can be intertwined. If we are creatively prompted from within, our ego will often want to take credit for everything. Could all of us find ourselves, at times, doing a high-wire act between wisdom and delusion?

The paradox, for me, is that wisdom can be found both by going within and trusting our intuition, as well as being able to listen and honestly observe what is taking place around us. Thinking that we, as separate individuals, have it “going on” above everybody else, is a form of delusion, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I wasn’t there to hear the above-mentioned interview, and cannot presume to know what is in the artist’s heart.  I can certainly relate to artists who are so tuned into the process of creating, that everything around them becomes interesting because they have an internal commitment to wonder.

I believe that we each have a unique perception of the life-force that flows thorough all things. If we lose sight of the fact that we are that life-force, currently inhabiting a body, then it becomes very easy to become convinced that we are separate from everything else. Because we are aware of the life-force that is connected to all things, our ego can convince us that we alone are the source of everything we see. When that happens, our unique take on things usually gets blocked by our need to be “special.”

We recently enjoyed an interview with the world renown cellist Yoyo Ma, who refers to himself as a Citizen Artist. He told host, Krista Tippet, that playing music wasn’t a competition but an opportunity to share and create a moment between the artist and the audience with the objective of making that moment special.

Most people would agree that Yoyo Ma is successful and at the top of his field. Yet, Yoyo Ma considers the moments shared by him and his audience to be the real goal. In fact, making those moments as special as possible, for him, is the point of playing music in the first place.

I would say, beyond his incredible dedication to his craft, it is Yoyo Ma’s ability to be present as presence that makes him both unique and universally appealing.

Perhaps inspiration comes to us as we let go of our over-identification with our experience or our need to be special.  Perhaps, it is in allowing ourselves to be here fully, and be fully with what is, that what we are able to share becomes worth sharing.

This is a moment to moment dance that we get to choose, both individually and collectively. As human beings, we wrestle with narcissism. Still, we all have immediate access to the presence within this present moment that invites us to be fully who we are, and which opens the door to an infinite variety of uniqueness within every interaction.

Recognizing that our ego is a part, but not the whole of our existence, we can begin to open up to the wonder this moment affords us, even on the high-wire.

Rallying for love in a world-wide blizzard

Finding ways to bond together in an age of “hyper-individualism ”

People dare to be comfortable with uncertainty if they are in solidarity with each other.”

– Joanna Macy speaking of the Work that Reconnects

My father told me a wonderful story about being in Chicago, on business, during a blizzard. He was staying in a hotel and, because everything was shut down and there was no electricity, people bonded who otherwise would not have had anything to do with each other. Beds and portable lights were set up in the ballroom of the hotel.  Meals and drinks were shared.  By laughing, joking and singing, strangers broke down that invisible wall to befriend one another.  When the snow let up and airport connections could be made, people went back to not knowing one another and went about their business. It confounded my dad, who was sure that the group intimacy they had shared would linger. Convention and profit margins magnetized the folks he had met back into being strangers as they scrambled to catch their taxis and flights.

Currently, it feels like we are in the midst of a worldwide, social blizzard. While one group is pitted against another, and commercial tactics and fear are breeding what Joanna Macy calls hyper-individualism, good folks are magnetized into becoming strangers, even to themselves.

We are in need of scenarios in which we come together to laugh, joke, sing and brake down that invisible wall to befriend one another.

With this aim in mind, my wife Julia and I started hosting a rally for LOVE in various places throughout the country. So far, we have held events in NY and CA. At both of these rallies, the intention was to bring various communities together to illuminate resources that allows us to stay connected as the world situation becomes overwhelming.

On the East Coast, there was a wide range of groups represented from an ethical culture society, a temple, a unity church, a wholeness center, Centers for Spiritual Living, The Interfaith Council, Science of Spirituality meditation centers, musicians, life coaches and even the Penguin Plungers, who brave the waters of the Hudson River in winter.

On the West Coast, the music was interspersed with acts from a network of circus performers who knew how to lighten our hearts. In the audience, there were teachers, authors, upcyclers, counselors, musicians, filmmakers, healers, potters, caretakers, and implementers of what Joanna Macy calls the Work that Reconnects.

The spirit of this rally was exemplified by Jaime Coventry, who was the M.C. for the night. In setting up the space just before the show, Jaime broke his pinky toe. He was so focused on the aim of the night, I had no idea he had injured himself. All he radiated was a gracious, gregarious and humorous benevolence.

Coventry & Kaluza

The success of both of these rallies was that the individuals who attended have continued to bond together after the event.

When asked why she does the work she does, Joanna Macy replied:             “I’m doing this work so that when things fall apart, we will not turn on each other.” To do this, she advises: “…little study groups, and book groups, make a garden together. Keep your ear to the ground. Inform each other. We have to develop the skill of finding that it is more fun to be waking up together, Sarvodaya [Sanskrit term meaning ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’], than a single lone star on the stage.”

When the daily news prompts you to run and hide, remember we are all on this stage together. We can still rally for LOVE!

 

Lumpy crossings going up the hill of harmony

Finding where we connect with those who seem so different

I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”- William Butler Yeats

This year to celebrate the Judaic-Celtic connection, instead of drinking green milkshakes and Irish whiskey, my love and I watched The Secret of Kels and listened to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast with Pádraig Ó Tuama.  Mr. Ó Tuama is a poetic theological social healer.  He is the leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. It is a refuge for people around the world. It is a space for people to share cups of tea and listen to one another while learning how to ask themselves the right questions.

When Corrymeela was founded in 1965, they were told the name meant “hill of harmony.” It was 10 years before someone pointed out the Irish word roughly means, “a place of lumpy crossings.” Once we are able to stay centered in an uncomfortable interaction, harmony will arise.  This is a role model we could really benefit from in America right now.

Mr. Ó Tuama illustrated how two groups, seemingly at odds, sat for two days within the heart of Corrymeela before this kind of breakthrough occurred.  A man that considered himself a “fundamentalist” Christian asked those he referred to in the room as “homosexuals” if his words had bruised them. He was told they had.

“Are you telling me that it’s painful for you to be around me?”  the man asked.

He was told that it was.

Mr. Ó Tuama noted that this man “chaplained himself”. That is, he was the one that brought himself to ask that question and was transformed by the answer. No one else could have pointed this out, it was something he had to come to on his own.

This same “fundamentalist” mentioned that he loved a political show on the BBC. Mr. Ó Tuama told him “My partner produces that.” That opened up amazement, curiosity and the capacity to ask the question mentioned above.

This exchange changed not only the “fundamentalist” but Mr. Ó Tuama who said he wanted to see the ways “in which I’m the perpetrator of real hostility and lack of understanding and lazy thinking. I want to be someone like him, who says, ‘Tell me what it’s like to hear the way I talk because I need to be changed.’ ”

This podcast went along splendidly with the animated masterpiece, The Secret of Kels.  The film is a mythical legend about the creation of the Book of Kels, a book that is the most prized treasure in Ireland. It is a Gospel whose illuminating illustrations were started in Scotland and finished in Ireland while the Vikings were ransacking villages for gold. The film suggests that the boy monk who becomes one of the book’s illustrators, is helped by a girl who is the spirit of the forest. The girl is the feminine. She is what would be considered pagan. She is the Goddess, she is the earth and life itself.  Within in this tale, the boy of faith and the girl of nature are able to steal one of the eyes of the serpent of darkness. The eye is a crystal that allows the illustrator to see the miraculous in the ordinary.

This symbol suggested to me that when face our inherited fear and see through the eyes of our ‘enemy’, we can gain a perspective brings light to the darkness of our hearts.

There was a art historian named Sister Wendy Beckett who talked about cultivating the “Gaze of Love”.  That is, placing your love into your eyes and seeing the world that way.

At a time when we are in a place of lumpy crossings with one another, perhaps we can cultivate this “Gaze of Love” to see those whose political, religious, cultural, philosophical and orientation are different from our own. We might even be able to join in a conversation over a cup of coffee or a mug of tea.

“Are there human connection points where quietly you can say to people, ‘Can you help me understand this?’” And maybe then you’ll participate in this fantastic argument of being alive in such a dynamic way that it’s great fun or really enlivening. And you can have a really robust disagreement. And that is the opposite of being frightened of fear because you can create that.” – Pádraig Ó Tuama

We can help one another up the hill, even if we disagree.

 

The Spherical Wonder of Intuition

Going beyond a linear understanding of our human nature.

“Intuition binds us together. Without it we lose our sense of purpose and belonging.”

-Malidoma Patrice Somé, a West African elder, spiritual leader and author

“In order to create something new human beings need to go into the unknown”

Marina Abramović, the “grandmother of performance art”

“Drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see.”

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

My wife Julia and I are a musical bridge between communities.  As The Levins, we bring Harmony-Driven Transformational Folk Grooves (TFG) into various settings to promote love and goodwill. One of the main benefits of this for us are the wonderful people we get to interact with. Recently, we played for a meditation retreat up in Hudson, NY.  One of our friends there talked of her upcoming trip to Sedona, Arizona. She said she was excited about immersing herself in nature for eight days because in nature there is no mirror. There is an opportunity to connect purely to your being without having to uphold a manicured image.

Nature is linked to our inner nature which invites and allows us to go beyond our linear rational confinement.

There is a insightful documentary called Innsaei, which explores our inner nature. Innsaei is an Icelandic term for Intuition. The word can also be translated as The Sea Within, or To See from Within. In the film, it is pointed out that approximately 2% of our brain is used for logical, fact and figure, linear thinking.  The rest of it is perhaps an aperture into what is unknown to us and yet constantly surrounds us.

The film noted that for eight generations Polynesians would travel hundreds of miles on the Pacific Ocean without navigational tools. They were able to use their intuition to read the depth of what was all around them.

“For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Another movie which delves into going beyond our linear perspective of the world is Arrival, based on the book “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

In this film, space ships arrive on earth and a linguist is brought in to communicate with them to discover why they are there. The discovery and study of this new language is a wonderful metaphor for us dealing with our unknown nature. We see it as alien, but using intuition we can learn something  that rewires our brains so that we can experience time as spherical.  The solution, described as in Arrival  as a ‘Non-Zero Sum Game’, requires us to share what we have with those that we see as our enemies or competitors to both come away with something that benefits us. The result is a win-win game.

Our capacity to trust our intuition and redevelop our sense of wonder allows us to go beyond the linear constructs of our lives with empathy and an optimistic savoring.

The lead character in Arrival, Dr. Louise Banks remembers the future and concludes:

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads… I embrace it. And I welcome every moment of it.”

The melody of our lives reaches out in tendrils to harmonize intuitively with everything we intersect.

Thank you for the fullness of our intersections.

 

 

Drawing power from thin air

Staying connected during times of social upheaval

“Every once in a while, a salesman will enter your midst who knows how to influence you towards something that is important to him and inspire you to see him as the solution. It makes no difference who thinks they are in control of you, they aren’t.  Tap into the leverage of being connected to your own power.”- Ester Hicks

Listening to a  recent talk by author Ester Hicks, a pioneer of spiritual thought,  I was reminded how marvelous our internal resources are.  The stream that flows through us constantly offers us solutions to the problems that crop up in our midst. My wife, Julia, often reminds me not to take on the energy of injustice but to use my love to bring about the results I desire .

“When you connect to your own power you cannot feel fear at the same time. The only bad thing that can happen to you is that you temporarily use some bogus thing as your reason for not knowing your power. When you don’t know your power than you give it to someone else. There are plenty of others that will say, “I will take your power from you. I will let you believe that I am the most important thing in the world to you.” It doesn’t matter which group is in power, they are not ever the vortex through which your good comes but they are often the subject by which you deny your own vortex. You have a vibrational cache that you have access to at all times. The only disempowerment that can come to you is to use anything as an excuse not to tap into that.”- Ester Hicks

In the midst of social upheaval, there are always examples of those who are tapping into their stream, their ‘vortex’, or the energy that observes and is us.

Max Loughan, at thirteen, created a generator that pulls and converts electricity from the air for less than fifteen dollars.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyRlbXUIscg

When interviewed, he said:

“I just want to invent a better future, I don’t care if I get money or credit, all I’m looking at is to make the world a better place, to advance it.”

This is a boy who knows that energy is not confined to his ego.

Connecting to what is ours to claim may seem selfish to some but our true power takes us beyond the tyranny of our ego’s need for validation and into a poetic state where…

“Everything that was broken has

Forgotten its brokenness…How can this be, but

it is. Every day has something in

it whose name is Forever.”

-Mary Oliver/ Everything that was broken

Going beyond the need for names to define our connection to what connects us, may your alignment give rise to the actions that bestow freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MLK and “interrelated structure of all reality.”

How MLK stayed connected to love.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by the Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.- a man who utilized his stream, or what Mooji would call, “the cosmic current of existence,” to help expand our universal understanding.  MLK was a man of action. His actions were blockbuster without having to shoot his way into enemy territory, punch out the bully or watch as the villain plummeted from a great height. Instead he actively connected to love, to the energy and awareness that manifests as all of us, to help us to see, feel and experience this, “Interrelated structure of all reality.”

You could say that MLK was selfless. He was willing to sacrifice even his life to get us to know that our differences are not only skin deep, mere pigmentation, but that our true Self includes everything that we perceive, and can conceive.

Again, I will quote Mooji to show how the actions of MLK stimulated a whole generation to work together towards our greater freedom.

“If you study and learn as a person, you can only function as a person- maybe as a good person, a skilled person- but when you awaken… you start moving as a whole environment. When something arises that needs to be done, that need is recognized, and a movement to fulfill it begins, and other streams join in until it becomes a river. You see how the forces join together.”- Mooji

How did MLK do this?  Martin did not allow himself to be defined and filled in with hatred of injustice but he would daily pray to be used by love, to live in the manner of love. He made sure to perform regular services for others. He strived to stay in good bodily and spiritual health. He meditated on the teachings and actions of his spiritual leader.  Most importantly and the hardest of all, he prayed for the oppressor.

His knew that love was a non-dual reality that transcends our limited clinging to the black and white.

This morning I ran across this Joseph Campbell quote:

“The Indians addressed all of life as a “thou”- the trees, the stones, everything. You can address anything as a “thou”, and if you do it, you can feel the change in your own psychology. The ego that sees a “though” is not the same ego that sees an “it.” And when you go to war with people, the problem of the newspapers is to turn those people into “its.” “ – Joseph Campbell

Matt Khan in talking about surrendering to love says it starts with taking a vacation from concern.  Not denying the things that are wrong or unjust, just taking a vacation from filling ourselves, our mind and body, emotions and cells with what is wrong.  Allowing ourselves to connect or surrender to love allows for solutions to our concerns to come through so when we come back from vacation, we can get back to work refreshed.

We are all a perception away from being able to act as a unified field.  The victory of MLK is not a victory for the church, or for one people but for all of life.

He knew who he was and his most constructive actions came from that knowing that he was, “free at last.”

Today is a chance for reflection and for being aware of the work that needs to still be done.  Still, in the midst of it all, may we be able to connect to love so that our concerns can be faced without anxiety but with the expectation of solutions we will usher in together. 

 

Goodnight Sweet Gene

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to eye.”

Gene Wilder as the Fox in Antoine de-Saint-Exupery’s The Little PrinceGene as fox

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Gene Wilder.  So often life is a cavalcade and we are riding through with all of our baggage, chores, hopes and dreams jostling us as we try and keep an eye on the terrain. When a celebrity dies, we may feel bad but rarely want to pull over and stoke up the campfire to sit and reflect on what they offered us.

Yesterday I read something by Mooji that said, “The way is not really a way. It is a depth. It is not a distance. It is a deepening into… the bliss of the unknowable.”*  Gene’s work had that depth. You could feel it right from the start when he appeared in Bonnie and Clyde.

The first word that comes right up to the top when I think of Gene is ‘sweet’.   He showed generations what being a sweet human being looked like.  He was able to display the full gambit of being human from our neurotic angst and furious madness to our capacity for playful romance and pure loving kindness.

At the end of Willy Wonka when the chocolatier becomes a monster to test Charlie and Charlie returns the gobstopper that he might have sold for untold wealth, all we see is Gene’s hand slowly close around the candy.  His voice, off screen has made me cry every time. “So shines a good deed, in a weary world.” I feel that Gene’s dedication and the work he gave us personifies this line.  When the camera showed us Gene’s face as he called after Charlie, the love and benevolence beaming out of his eyes seemed to redeem all of humanity.Gene as WIlly

We watched Blazing Saddles the other night and it struck me that his work with Cleavon Little and Richard Pryor, in movies like Silver Streak, was a movement in itself.  The natural ease and delight of these larger than life friendships were heroic. The comedy was perhaps the intention and certainly was the result but there is a lingering bolstered hope imprinted on our hearts after watching these films. While society is still trying to sweat itself up the mountain of equality, Gene and Cleavon and then Gene and Richard, (who helped write Blazing Saddles) were “deepening into the bliss of the unknowable.”

Gene and CleavonGene and Richard

I heard that Gene didn’t want to tell the public that he was struggling with Alzheimer’s, because kids would say, “Look, there’s Willy Wonka!” It gave them such joy; he didn’t want to take that away from them. He couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.

Gene was singing, “Somewhere over the Rainbow” when he was taken from us.

May we all be capable of such sweetness and be remembered as fondly as Jerome Silberman, who, being inspired by Tomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, became our Gene Wilder.

Gene Wilder

Gene as Willy Wonka

 

*- White Fire/Mooji © 2014

Dirje Childs: This is the seminary; this is the Zen monastery…The cello, my heart and me.

“The ultimate aesthetic value is closely connected with the notion of a higher experience to create beautiful things, but ultimately to reach this higher state of mind. The skills and techniques of the arts are…  nothing more than the means to reach this deeper aesthetic value… Religious enlightenment and aesthetic enlightenment are the same thing…”  Hideo Kishmoto, “Mahayana Buddhism and Japanese Thought,” Philosophy East and West, Vol. 4, no 3 (Oct. 1954), p. 221

“Nothing is more hallowing that the union of kindred spirits in art. At the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself.  At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but words cannot voice his delight, for the eye has no tongue. Freed from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind. It is this which makes a masterpiece something sacred.”-     K. Okakura, The Book of Tea, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1991 (!906), p. 10

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Dirje Childs

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, I would love to spotlight Dirje Childs.  (Dirje is pronounced Dear-G)

In our search for a cello player to record with, Julia and I asked our friend Mark Dann. He enthusiastically recommended Dirje.  He said she was right in line with what we were doing.

“Great,” we said, “where does she live?”

“Austin Texas.”

Well, that was that for a while.    

Then he suggested her again. We looked her up and found this video:

Dirje Childs-The Grateful Cellist:

https://youtu.be/TdHXzrBRo6U

Here is a portion of the transcript:

Dirje: “I finally said to the universe, alright do I need to be a nun, should I go to seminary? … I knew this is the voice I am meant to sing through. Right from the heart. This is the seminary; this is the Zen monastery. The cello, my heart and me.

Kate Potter: On retreat in the morning after meditation, we agreed that we would be silent until after breakfast.  Dirje played for us during that silent portion and everybody who was on retreat was suddenly alive in the silence, quite engaged in the silence.

Dirje: They get a space of time where they are totally held in a peaceful quiet place where they are allowed to wake up to their life.  It goes beyond regular meditation practices because the cello is there singing to those broken places.  A tonic that is practical as it is deeply nourishing to the spirt. Something different yet simple, accessible to everyone.  Breath, presence, rest, clarity. How many of us could use that oasis of rest in the breath and this present moment? …  Any human being, to have the gift of coming out of all the things, the busyness of our mind, even the pain of our body, to rest in the moment… When I am in the future, I am in anxiety. When I am in the past, I am in regret and depression. When I am in the present, I am in the gift. … to be present to each other is a gift.  One of my great heroes is Mother Teresa, binding up these people on the street. Well, you wouldn’t think that any of us are the wounded or the broken, but we are. And so this is that spirit of Mother Teresa offering to bind up and bring us all out of that craziness that we have in our heads; back to ourselves and our breath. Simply and to each other.  My dream is that not only do people feel access to some healing but that it begins to wake up in their hearts.  The call to be who they are in this earth.  That’s what my cello wants to whisper in the ears of every soul that listens, “wake up to the gift that you are on this earth.”

When you listen to the video, you can hear the tone of Dirje’s cello delivering what she is describing.

There are moments, when religious or meditative practices do not reach us.  Moments where we long to be immersed in the fullness of being.  At these times, we may be moved aesthetically. Dirje’s music provides that aesthetic.

I am grateful to say, that we reached out to Dirje and she will be on The Levins’ next recording.

May we come into a greater equality within, so that we can finally reach the summit of our humanity.

www.Dirje.com

www.Thegratefulcellist.com   

On a platform of service

Julia and I just returned home from a trip through the Midwest and continued the celebration of family and extended family with our dear friend Barbara, who was visiting from California.
We were talking about looking at our lives as a spiritual journey, acknowledging the service those around us offer and then realized that we, as individuals, don’t often see the extent of the service that we offer others.
Our friend Barbara is a nurse in SF Bay Area, California. We knew she was doing good things for the underserved in our region. We did not know that her caregiving began in the eighties when she was put in charge of an AIDS unit. This was right at the start of the pandemic when few people understood the extent of what was happening.  The other nurses recognized, even subconsciously, that Barbara had the aptitude to pioneer this task. Barbara is compassionate and magnetizes a person’s trust which she does not betray. She commented that she “didn’t think about the challenge; you just did it.”  It made me realize that if you had talked with Mother Teresa she might not have thought what she was doing was anything more than routine work. 
Where any one of us might shy away from having to bathe someone who was sick, Barbara lit up talking about how healing it was getting people in the water.  Giving someone a sponge bath, she said not only cleansed them but restored their being, gave them dignity.
For many years now, Barbara has been working at a clinic where she treats the homeless. We know Barbara as a musician and as a loyal friend.  She doesn’t aggrandize herself with her work. It was stirring to see her consider her impact, as if for the first time, while we discussed it over lunch.  
We each have various methods of being of service.  Reflecting on our own lives, can remind us of how and where we are needed.  Ego and doubt can try to punch our dance card but the dance floor is vast and there is a lot going on out and in (t)here.  Barbara talked about working from a platform where her outside anxieties and other people’s opinions didn’t interfere with her focus.
Barbara was taking a summer break to travel around and visit family and friends so she could charge up. “Connection, it’s my thing,” she said as before we both got in our cars and drove away.
Today, we are catching up on all the business that piles up when we go away but are also drawing from the strength of our connection to those we love.
Here is a visualization I have been enjoying:  With the intake of breath, see your heart and the hearts of everyone you love becoming illuminated, strengthened.  With the outbreath see that illumination rippling out concentrically.  This can extend to illuminating the hearts of all living things but building up naturally is probably a good idea.
May you be nurtured by what you offer in love.

The polishing within

mirabaimoonJulia and I had the honor of being a part of our friend Mirabi Moon’s kirtan CD Bridge to Where You Are, and getting to join her for her CD release.  Before the concert we were eating a light dinner and I got to talk to our mutual friend Jim, who joined Mirabi on her last visit to India.  He was telling me about the pollution and the poverty of Delhi as well as going to visit Neem Karoli Baba’s home and ashram. Baba was the influential guru of Ram Dass, Krishna Das and others.  Jim told me that he went into Baba’s room and felt the love and joy palpably.  There was a definite shift in the energy.

Now, there are people who would tell of this experience and place the emphasis on them noticing the shift of energy.  “Notice how I was the one who felt the love and joy in this space, I am really something that I was able to pick up on this.”  Jim is not that way.  He is unassuming, quiet, gentle and real in a sweet grounded way. When he told me, I believed him.  Jim is like the untitled, unannounced guru, who manifests an enlightened quietude with a smile and the ability to listen to you without interruption.

We started talking about meditation and he said what was important was polishing the connection between you and your source.  If mediation allowed you to do that, that was the thing, if playing music did it for you, then that was the thing.  He said most people are actively seeking other people’s opinions for guidance or validation when everything is inside. Polishing the connection is all that matters.

The next night I spent time with a veterinarian from Argentina who grew up seeing headlines about the Jewish Problem in the newspapers, published by the local Nazis. He came to this country and incurred grief for being ‘Hispanic’.   He laughs about it and maintains his wholeness.  He turned me on to Harold Land, a saxophone player and a recording he did with Clifford Brown.   These were folks who polished their connection through their instruments to be sure. What struck me about my friend the veterinarian was that he was fully himself without apology or any discomfiture.  While he was humorously incredulous about the state of the world, it didn’t diminish his presence or push him off his center.  There was no need for validation as he told me his stories about meeting the Art Farmer, the trumpeter.

He laughed and said the Spice Girls made more money than Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, many other great Jazz greats and even Bach combined.  Yet, here we were listening to Clifford Brown, not the Spice Girls.  Genius will prevail is essentially what he said.

Later, Julia turned me on to a video of Bill Murray being interviewed and when asked what he wanted, Bill said that he wanted to be here more of the time.  Essentially, he was saying that he wanted to be present and if it were possible to become enlightened but he never actually said that.  Yet listening to him hint at it, the energy raised up right through the screen.

The next day I discussed all of this with Julia and reflected that I also desire to be present more of the time but also admire and long to be more consistently comfortable being who and where I am.  In my desire to be the bridge between communities, I get lured into seeking the approval of those either in front of me or those I admire.  If I am with a Jewish beloved leader, there is an undercurrent driving me to prove or show how Jewish I am, as if I don’t believe I am measuring up to what other people are doing.  The truth is, our own path is not worn by many feet.  If we are truly on path, we are forging it and while I want everyone to love me, the polishing is within.  If I am in a space of being love, then I do not need that validation or acceptance.  I am loving and accepting and that becomes the bridge between communities.  I am not the conduit but the love generated, within my connection is.